What’s in a Name?

When it comes to furthering their narrative about illegal aliens, the anti-borders lobby will stop at nothing. One of the most disturbing aspects of their strategy is the attempt to redesign reality by changing the common names of things. Contrary to the assertions made by post-modernist academics, words do have concrete meanings. The terms we use to describe the world are not just names appended to objects, they represent ideas. Change the name and you frequently change the idea.

CNN Money recently featured a piece called “Why Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes.” The piece quotes Jose Magaña-Salgado, a policy attorney at the anti-borders National Immigrant Legal Resource Center (NILRC) on why those unlawfully present in the United States pay taxes. He says, “First of all, it’s the law. And these undocumented immigrants are trying to abide by the law and are fulfilling their civic and financial responsibilities.”

The only reason Mr. Magaña-Salgado can make that assertion with a semi-straight face is the use of the deliberately misleading term “undocumented immigrant.” Replace “undocumented immigrants” with “illegal aliens” and the patent illogic of his statement becomes readily apparent: “First of all it’s the law. And these [illegal aliens] are trying to abide by the law….” In other words, illegal aliens are law abiding folks. And if he had said it plainly, just like that, readers might have questioned his judgment as an attorney, if not his sanity. Because, by definition, an illegal act cannot be law abiding.

That’s why the illegal aliens and their supporters love the term “undocumented immigrant.” It makes it sound as though aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States are just like native-born Americans, except for those documents that they don’t have. It is a verbal construction intended to gloss over the serious national security, public safety, economic, and sovereignty concerns raised by illegal migration. It also trivializes violations of the INA, reducing them to something akin to paying an added late fee when you forget to renew your driver’s license. Something that you’re not supposed to forget, but if you do, it won’t land you in jail for six months.

It’s certainly not truthful, when the NILRC claims that “undocumented immigrants” are law abiding but, for the casual listener, it doesn’t sound quite as manifestly insane as using “illegal” and “law-abiding” in the same sentence. And it becomes easier to make the follow-on argument: that “undocumented immigrants” should have their immigration status “regularized.” So, the NILRC, the American Civil Liberties Union and other illegal alien advocacy groups continue to push the absurd notion that immigration violators haven’t “really” violated any laws, in an effort to linguistically eliminate legal principles that they dislike. Rather than seeking legislative repeal of Immigration and Nationality Act, they’re attempting to verbally re-define it out of existence.

Ideas have consequences. And the idea of the “undocumented immigrant” is a bad one that should be expunged from the public debate on immigration. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.” If we want to get smart about border control, then we should insist that everyone call immigration violators exactly what they are – illegal aliens.

Matt O'Brien :Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.